From a legislative perspective, the last nine weeks have been a whirlwind. Since my last legislative status report in August, NASA funding by way of a Continuing Resolution (through March 2009), including extension of NASA’s exemption under INKSNA, has been signed by the President, and the Authorization Act has been cleared by the Congress and transmitted to the President for signature.
On September 30, the President signed the Consolidated Security, Disaster Assistance, and Continuing Appropriations Act, 2009, (H.R. 2638), otherwise known as the Continuing Resolution (CR). This legislation funds NASA at FY 2008 levels through March 6, 2009, or until a full-year appropriations bill is passed. Also for NASA, the bill includes $30 million in disaster funding (for damage caused by Hurricane Ike) and an important anomaly related to the Agency’s account and budget structure, which allows NASA to execute appropriations under the Continuing Resolution in the proposed FY 2009 account structure. To further explain, the FY2008 appropriations bill required a new accounting structure for NASA (moving from four to seven appropriations accounts). NASA needed the special authority to proceed with this new structure in FY2009 because a CR requires the same funding and structure as in FY2008. To reverse back to the four-account structure would be very costly so the appropriations gave us special “anomaly” authority in the CR.
Of particular note, the Act includes an extension of our waiver of the Iran North Korea Syria Non-Proliferation Act (INKSNA) provision. This extension allows NASA to continue purchasing Soyuz flights beyond 2011, through July 1, 2016. This will enable NASA to continue to send American astronauts, as well as our international partner crew members, to and from the International Space Station during the “gap” between the time the Shuttle is retired and Orion/Ares I comes on-line. The Agency does not intend to purchase Progress cargo services after 2011, and will look to the U.S. commercial sector to provide our needs. Mike and I worked closely with the Senate Foreign Relations and House Foreign Affairs Committees (both of which approved extensions to our exception), House and Senate leadership, and our House and Senate Appropriations and Authorization Committees to secure this extension.
On the authorization front, on September 27, the House cleared, by voice vote, the one-year, $20.2 billion NASA Authorization Act of 2008 (H.R. 6063). The Senate passed the measure by unanimous consent on September 25. Most critical for NASA, this bill reaffirms Congress’ strong bipartisan support for the “Vision for Space Exploration,” including human exploration of the Moon and eventually Mars. The bill signals Congressional intent to the next Administration by supporting accelerated development of the Orion and Ares programs, as well as directing that there be no activity between now and April 30, 2009 that would preclude the continued flight of the Space Shuttle after FY 2010. The measure also directs NASA to fly one additional Space Shuttle flight to deliver the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer to the International Space Station, but only if it can be done before the end of calendar year 2010 and would not result in significant increased costs or unacceptable safety risks. There are other provisions of the bill but these can wait until the President actually signs it into law.